Creating a Wildflower Meadow


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Butterflies and hummingbirds will “beat a path" to your wildflower meadow and you will have the pleasure of experiencing a constant changing of colors from week to week, too beautiful to adequately describe.

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Creating a Wildflower Meadow

  1. 1. I f you are looking for a family nature project that is fun and rewarding, consider Butterflies and hummingbirds will “beat a path" turning part of your yard into to your wildflower meadow and you will a wildflower meadow. have the pleasure of experiencing a constant changing of colors from week to week, A wildflower meadow is like an endless string of birthday too beautiful to adequately describe. presents. Each day you will find an unexpected blossom to admire, or a new bird or butterfly to watch. A meadow will promote a feeling of calm as well as discovery, provide Creating a lots of flowers for cutting and materials for nature crafts, plus support wildlife with food and shelter. Wildflower While several acres of wildflowers are undoubtedly lovely, a small “pocket meadow" Meadow in the backyard can also bring you months of pleasure. A wildflower meadow should look For more nature habitat information natural. It can provide Visit these helpful websites: contrast to a green lawn or formal flower beds. A Plants Home A Birds Home A Homesteaders Home Although you will tend it by controlling invasive weeds, the overall effect will not be as groomed as a traditional garden or lawn, so you may want to discuss your plans with your neighbors and get them excited about the concept of meadows. You should also check on any local regulations that would prohibit an unmowed area. To “dress up" your meadow and make it look more tended, consider adding pathways, a fence, and maybe even a bench or two. Getting Started First, you must decide where to put your meadow. Although there are wildflowers that© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 1 A Plants Home
  2. 2. thrive in shady conditions, most gardens are planted in your WindStar is a member, meadows need to be in an area area. If you have cold winters, recommends that native of full sun. The other spring planting after all danger grasses make up 50 to 80 requirement is that the soil of killing frost is best. It is also percent of the meadow seed. have good drainage. Although it possible to plant in summer, up They are beneficial because they is generally not recommended to two months before frost, but help support and protect tall that you fertilize a meadow, if then you must expect to do wildflowers, crowd out weeds, your soil is heavy clay you might more watering. and prevent soil erosion. want to add some organic matter to improve drainage. Gardeners who live in cold The grasses will also add color climates might choose to try and texture to your meadow, as Most wildflowers will care for “dormant planting." This means well as provide food and cover themselves once they are waiting until after killing frosts, for wildlife. Depending on the established, but they will have when the ground has cooled species, their growth form will to be kept moist for the first enough to prevent sprouting. be mat- (or sod) forming, or few weeks as they germinate The seed will winter over in its bunch-forming. Those that form and set down roots, so your dormant state and sprout in mats spread by runners – meadow area should be near a the spring, giving you earlier stems that grow horizontally convenient source of water. blossoms. along the ground and put down Choose a site that is only as roots. Bunch grasses form large as you are willing to work clumps and usually don’t flower to maintain. or set seeds the first year. Some may only be 2 or 3 inches tall by the end of the growing Seed season. Wildflower seed can be purchased from a number of Beneficial native grasses sources. It is important to use include buffalograss, big a reputable company. You can bluestem, little bluestem, get a list of suppliers for your grama grasses, Indian grass, area from the National and muhly grasses. Wildflower Research Center, 4801 LaCrosse Avenue, Austin, Texas 78739. Soil preparation Your soil can be prepared by If you decide to plant selected hand or by rototilling. species rather than use a Wildflowers are hardy but not mixture of flowers, pick plants Those living in warm climates magic – you can’t just throw that are native to your part of with light or no frost can plant the seeds on the ground and the country. They will grow almost any time, but the hot expect them to perform well. better and you won’t risk summer months are not They have to have contact with introducing a species that can recommended. Generally the soil, and a chance to grow become invasive and crowd out speaking, you want to plant without overwhelming native vegetation. Beware of when the soil is warm and rain competition from weeds. generic “wildflowers in a can" will promote germination. because they often contain If you use a tiller, go only deep undesirable weeds and grasses. enough to remove old roots. Grasses Digging deeper just brings more A natural meadow includes weed seeds to the surface to When to plant grasses as well as wildflowers. germinate. If tilling isn’t Wildflower seed is best sown The National Wildflower sufficient, there are other about one week before vegetable Research Center, of which methods to try. Your choice will© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 2 A Plants Home
  3. 3. depend upon your time, budget, two equal parts. Put the first Germination the size of your site, and half in a container and add All seeds, even wildflowers, attitude towards herbicides. about 10 parts of light sand or need moisture and warmth to vermiculite. germinate. Some will sprout in a Method One involves early week, while others take months. site preparation three weeks This will help you to spread Most mixes will include both prior to sowing. Tilling is the seed evenly, and also make annual and perennial flowers. followed by repeated cultivation it easy to see where you’ve The annuals germinate quickly during that time period, thus already been. Sow this half over and grow fast. They bloom early eliminating the early annual the whole area to be seeded, and heavily, set seed, and are weeds. either by hand or using a hand- killed by frost. They may reseed, crank cyclone seeder. but you will probably want to Method Two starts six weeks add more seed every couple of ahead of sowing. During the You may want to sow up to 2 years to insure a good first three weeks after tilling, or 3 times the supplier’s performance. weeds are allowed to grow (even recommended minimum rates, encouraged with watering) and but don’t go higher than that Perennials come back every then they are treated with a because it will inhibit good year from the same roots. They herbicide such as Roundup. The growth. grow more slowly and may not weeds will die during the next flower until the second year. three weeks and can be raked They get larger and stronger away. This also gives the each year, forming clumps that chemicals time to wash out of may die back in winter but the soil. This method is good if return the next spring. A third you have persistent perennial type of plant, biennials, form weeds to remove. leaves the first year, bloom the second, and are killed by frost Method Three takes more after blooming. They are planning, but requires no generally considered perennial chemicals. Till in the late performers, however, because of summer or early fall of the year their heavy seed production. before you want to plant. The soil can be left fallow, or you can plant a cover crop such as Maintenance buckwheat or annual rye grass. Fertilizer is not recommended. This will hold the soil in place, Wildflowers grow best in soils add beneficial organic matter to with low fertility, where nitrogen the site, and help to crowd out Mix the second half of your levels are low. Using fertilizer will germinating weeds. In the spring, seed in the same way, and also promote weed growth. lightly cultivate to loosen the spread it over the whole area Water to get the meadow soil and turn under the cover also, making sure that you hit established, and then only in crop just before planting. any bare spots that were times of stress. Overwatering missed the first time. Don’t yields more leaves and fewer rake or cover the seed with soil. flowers. Sowing Instead, press it into the Once your ground is bare and ground using a lawn roller or You might have to pull up loosened and you are ready to piece of plywood that you walk some weeds or shrubs that sow, there are some tricks that on. intrude on your meadow, but will make the process easier and often it is easiest to just let more successful. Choose a If compressing isn’t possible, them go and become part of nearly windless day, and it is better to do nothing than your natural landscape. Once a separate the seed into roughly to rake or cover the seed. year, at the end of the growing© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 3 A Plants Home
  4. 4. While many perennials will local regulations. If you choose also germinate the first year, not to burn, you can continue "If it is true, as their root growth comprises to control weeds by mowing or Emerson suggested, two or three times the amount spot-treating with herbicides. of the above-ground that the earth laughs vegetation, and they normally Although a wildflower in flowers, then a don’t flower until the second meadow is not maintenance- meadow is the earth or third year. free and requires some laughing right out advance preparation, once it is The Second Year will see the established it is less labor- loud." native bunch grasses flower intensive and costs less to —Laura Martin and produce seeds, assuming maintain than a traditional The Wildflower Meadow Book that there has been well- lawn. In addition, it will provide spaced and abundant rainfall. you and your neighbors with an Some biennial and perennial ever-changing display of color season and after seeds have wildflowers will begin to bloom. and texture, while at the same formed, you should mow the If weather conditions weren’t time offer food and shelter to entire area with the mower on optimal the first year, residual some of the wildlife displaced its highest setting (6-8 seeds from that planting may by development. inches). germinate. Your meadow may inspire This will keep tree and brush As the meadow fills out, you others to follow your lead, seedlings under control, and may want to re-seed or perhaps even as community destroy the seed crop of transplant species to fill in efforts at schools or along annual weeds. Wait until at bare spots or increase roadways. A wildflower meadow least half of the late-blooming diversity. If annual weeds are a is a treasure in every season, wildflowers have had time to problem, remove them before so why not start right now to drop seeds. If your meadow they set seed. make your plans for a beautiful includes tall, warm-season future. native grasses, wait until late The Third Year and Beyond summer or early fall to mow. may see enough growth that This article was written by Leaving seed heads in place you might consider a Thomas D. Patrick, President, through the winter adds “controlled burn." Fire is a WindStar Wildlife Institute. interest to the meadow and natural process in many It was edited by Maryland provides food for the birds. ecosystems and can reduce Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist Cathy Gilleland. After mowing, leave the the woody plants and other clippings in place, unless the invasive species. Burning also For more information or for the meadow is in a moist area, in stimulates the growth of name of a Master Wildlife which case the clippings need many native grasses and Habitat Naturalist in your area, to be removed. prairie perennials, and breaks please contact: the dormancy of some seeds. WindStar Wildlife Institute However, burning is a technique What to Expect that requires special expertise E-mail: The First Year will be and should not be attempted dominated by the annuals without first consulting that germinate quickly. These experienced experts. are bright and showy, with the WindStar Wildlife Institute best display in mid- to late Since fire affects all the is a national, non-profit, summer. Although they will species in the meadow, be sure conservation organization whose reseed a certain amount, to mission is to help individuals of your goal before using it as and families establish or maintain the color level you a tool. Many areas require improve the wildlife habitat on should plan to reseed annuals permits for burning, or may their properties. every two or three years. prohibit it completely, so check© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 4 A Plants Home